ANALYSIS: 3 questions facing Dayton Flyers as offseason begins

Mar. 25—Dayton Flyers guard Enoch Cheeks may have earned a spot in the "One Shining Moment" highlight video when he soared to the basket for a one-handed slam in the first half Saturday against Arizona.

"I know we needed the momentum," Cheeks said. "I know I needed to go to the rim hard."

By the time that video airs after the national championship game April 8, Dayton's season will have been long over. The memory of the slam by Cheeks during a 10-0 run to end the first half will stay with everyone who witnessed the game at the Delta Center or on TV back in Ohio.

There were other standout moments for the Flyers in the second round in what everyone was calling a standalone game — there were no other games being played at that time on Saturday. Cheeks had another dunk in the second half and swung on the rim to extend the moment. Koby Brea made his usual assortment of 3-pointers but also had an unexpected dunk. DaRon Holmes II fought Arizona's big man for every one of his 23 points.

No. 7 Dayton (25-8) lost 78-68 to No. 2 seed Arizona (27-8) but challenged a team that ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press top-25 poll for two weeks in December.

"I think we had an excellent season," Cheeks said. "We have nothing to hold our heads about. I'm just kind of disappointed in how this turned out."

After flying home to Dayton late Saturday afternoon, the Flyers entered an uncertain future. That goes for every team in college basketball in the age of the transfer portal. Here are the three biggest questions facing the Flyers:

1. Will Holmes return?

Dayton's star player scored 18 points in a 63-60 victory Thursday against No. 10 seed Nevada and had 23 points against Arizona. He averaged 20.4 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior. Both were career highs.

Holmes explored the NBA Draft process last season. He's expected to do so again this season. He has one more season of eligibility. Looking back, he said after the game he's glad he returned to college.

"It helped me out so much, not only for me but also for the team," Holmes said. "It felt great to be here. This is home."

Holmes said he feels like his game's ready for the next level, but he has not made a decision about his next step.

"At the end of the day, I've still got to see," Holmes said. "I still don't know yet. I'm going to go figure it out. I might be in a better position than I was last year. I still might not be ready. I don't know."

Kevin O'Connor, of The Ringer, ranked Holmes 33rd on his list of 2024 NBA Draft prospects. ESPN's Jonathan Givony ranked Holmes 53rd. Jonathan Wasserman, of Bleacher Report, predicted Holmes would be drafted 55th overall.

Dayton coach Anthony Grant was asked after the game if he thought Holmes was ready for the next level.

"I'm 100% behind whatever decision DaRon and his family makes," Grant said. "That guy has been a joy to coach. I wish I could have him for another five years, another 10 years. I get calls from NBA teams and scouts ask me, 'Is he as good a kid as he seems? You read about him and you listen to him.' Yeah, he is. He's about all the right stuff. He's all about the team. He's all about hard work. He's all about character. He's all about caring for other people. So whatever is best for him, I'm on that train. Sign me up."

Count Brea among the people who believes Holmes will not return to college basketball.

"Honestly, I would be mad if he did," Brea said. "He had an incredible season. That's what's in his future. I think it's time for that. You never know what's going to happen. Whatever he decides, we've got his back no matter what. He's been unbelievable for Dayton, a blessing for Dayton."

2. Will Dayton lose any more players to the portal?

Dayton has one open scholarship on the 2024-25 roster after Zimi Nwokeji entered the portal last week. It will have two scholarships to work with if Holmes leaves. More spots could open if other players decide to leave.

Four players entered the portal last spring. Dayton lost two players earlier in the 2022-23 season in December. Two years ago, Dayton lost one player during the season and two after the season.

Everyone on the Dayton has roster has eligibility remaining. It's too early to say how many players will stay with the Flyers. As of Sunday, there were 812 players in the portal, according to the list kept by

"In this day and age, you never know what's going to happen," Brea said. "We're just going to have to wait and see. I'm just proud of what we were able to do this year. There are no promises of what's going to happen in the future."

Brea, Cheeks, Kobe Elvis and Brady Uhl all have a fifth season of eligibility because they played their freshman seasons during the pandemic in 2020-21. The NCAA did not count that season against anyone's eligibility

Nate Santos has one season of eligibility remaining, as does Holmes. Isaac Jack and Javon Bennett have two seasons remaining. Petras Padegimas has three.

Malachi Smith, who earned a medical redshirt this season, has two seasons of eligibility. Marvel Allen and Jaiun Simon, who redshirted as freshman, have four seasons remaining.

3. Who will Dayton add?

Grant wasn't ready to talk about the future in his postgame press conference Saturday.

"Right now, we're going to get these guys back to the hotel," Grant said. "We're going to make plans to get back to town, and that's about all I know right now. That's about as far as I can see."

Dayton did not sign anyone on signing day in November for the first time Grant's seven seasons. The focus seems to be on adding help through the portal as the coaches did last year when they picked up Cheeks, Nate Santos, Javon Bennett and Isaac Jack. There's still a possibility Dayton could add an incoming freshman. It picked up Allen and Padegimas, both members of the 2023 class, late in the recruiting cycle last year.

Recruiting continued during the NCAA tournament. According to reports on X (Twitter), Dayton expressed interest in the following players in the first days after the portal opened on March 18.

Chattanooga transfer Sam Alexis, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds.

—Toledo transfer Ra'Heim Moss, a 6-4 junior guard from Springfield who averaged 15.5 points.

—Memphis transfer Jonathan Pierre, a 6-9 forward who played limited minutes in one season at Memphis.

Nevada coach Steve Alford talked about the challenge of continuing to recruit while preparing for a NCAA tournament game on Wednesday in a press conference at the Delta Center.

"It's made it just a busier time," Alford said. "I was talking to our athletic director and staffs, boosters that we have in the hotel this morning about it. Normally this is all about watching tape on Dayton, watching as many game tapes as you can that they've played, the schemes that you want to try to devise both offensively and defensively. Yet we're on the phone doing Zooms last night for almost two hours with recruits. It's very, very different now. Recruits are on visits now. That part of it's odd.

"I still wish there was a period of time that the 68 teams that are in the field can enjoy being something that you've worked for for four or five months, to be a part of something special like that — that's your only focus. When we get past Phoenix, the Final Four, then we open it up. That's always been the norm. Coaches know once your season is over, that's when recruiting happens. It's odd the recruiting is now happening before your season's even over. I think that's an odd thing that really shouldn't happen."

Grant talked Wednesday about how the portal has changed his job.

"I think obviously part of our job as coaches is to adapt to situations," Grant said. "I think it's in flux right now — college athletics, period — because there's been so many changes. ... The transfer portal and NIL, to go along with the impact of the extra COVID year, college basketball has gotten a lot older where you're seeing 24- and 25-year-olds competing against 18- and 19-year-olds.

"Along with the NIL is the influence of the agents and then the different sponsors that guys have a responsibility to, along with the ability to change locations multiple times. I think it's a different game than what it's been. I think the beauty of college athletics has always been the ability to bring a team together and grow a team together. I think some of that, as a coach, you begin to question if that piece of it can remain a part of the game. Whether it's basketball or football, really any sport, I think that's in the balance right now. So we'll have to see where it ends up."